Google has gone through changes that will force local advertisers to sink or swim. In the last couple of weeks, Google has been placing increasing importance on local business listings by experimenting with the placement of the 7-pack listings. In the example below, the map shows up on the right hand side of the page - where paid results show up - and have increased the size of the local listings to look more like organic results. This layout is very advantageous for consumers, in that it simplifies the amount of listings shown above the fold, and creates a very direct path for consumers to get the answers they seek.
What This Means for Advertisers
Although Google claims that it is just experimenting with the 7-pack listings at this point, the changes that could come from this decision would have varying impacts on local advertisers.
- Advertisers on Google Places: Having a content-rich local business listing through Google Places would be a distinct advantage in this situation. Not only would these advertisers have optimal positioning, but businesses would have increased relevance to the searches being performed.
- Advertisers employing SEO and paid search: As can be seen in the screenshot, there is only so much room on the first page of results. If Google decided to go forward with this layout, organic and paid listings would inevitably be pushed further down the results page.
- Advertisers on Internet yellow pages: Because Internet yellow pages are local in nature, most search engines show these listings on the first page of search results. However, with this layout, yellow page listings would also be pushed down the page. As if that's not bad enough, Internet yellow page listings shown on search engines typically link to another set of search results. This extra step combined with lower placement may be what puts another nail in the Internet yellow pages coffin.
The Inevitable Backlash
As can be expected, there are already marketers and advertisers up in arms about these recent experiments from Google. It's clear that this may significantly affect local advertisers putting a significant portion of their budget into SEO (define), paid search, or Internet yellow pages. On the other hand, it's hard for me to assume that Google would make such a drastic change in the layout without thinking about how this would impact advertisers (i.e., its meal ticket).
Google Places Wants Your Business
Let's look at the evidence. Over the past couple of months, Google has made significant upgrades to the newly named "Google Places" (previously called the Google Local Business Center). It has given local advertisers the ability to:
- Implement Google Tags - enhancements that can be seen on the results page when your local business listing appears.
- Own a listing that includes a service area instead of only showing a physical location.
- Enhance content through photos, videos, coupons (including mobile coupons), and more.
If you're a small to medium business and you haven't done so already, you need to take advantage of the following right now:
- Google Tags: For a $25 flat monthly fee, advertisers on Google Places can promote important aspects of their business. These are shown as yellow markers on the local business listing, and when users scrolls over the tag on Google or click on the sponsored link, they can view coupons, photos, or any other select features that an advertiser would like to promote about their business.
- Service area upgrades: Advertisers now have the option to promote either a single brick-and-mortar location or a service area in which they can go to their consumers. This recent change now gives service-based advertisers a chance to promote their business through Google Places, where there was no opportunity to do so, before.
Enhancements Within the Local Business Listings
- Photos: Each business listing can have up to 10 images (each no more than 1MB) to enhance the user experience when viewing a listing.
- Videos: Online videos are becoming increasingly important to consumers. Through Google Places, each listing is allowed a video (formatted through YouTube) that showcases your business, or attracts more consumers.
- Coupons: This is a great way to create a call to action within a local business listing. Coupons can be changed regularly, depending on the special, and now advertisers on Google Places have the opportunity to include mobile coupons, for consumers viewing their listing on-the-go.
Google is encouraging advertisers to create content-rich local business listings through Google Places. With all of the recent additions and changes it has made to enhance the user experience, it's no wonder that it now wants advertisers to promote this content through an expanded layout on the Google results page. Alfred Perlman of The New York Times once said, "After you've done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over."
Google realizes that there's always room for improvement. Even though changes to the results page may not be looked upon favorably at first, eventually, advertisers will come to appreciate the changes that have been made. Local advertisers that seek to adapt to these changes early on by creating content-rich local business listings will be the ones that come out on top.
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Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
March 19, 2014